Our life group is reading through the Gospel of Mark, and while we ran out of time this week and stopped at verse 39, I kept thinking about the following story in light of our current cultural climate.
40 A man with leprosy came to him and begged him on his knees, “If you are willing, you can make me clean.” 41 Jesus was indignant. He reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!” 42 Immediately the leprosy left him and he was cleansed.
For those who don’t know, leprosy was a common, yet fearful ailment in the ancient world. There also wasn’t just one form. A leper was cast out, shunned, and ostracized from the entire community because they were “unclean.” The fact that a leper even had the courage to approach an honorable Jewish man was an anomaly. Even in his bold action, the leper is hesitant that Jesus will do has he hopes. Earlier in Mark’s Gospel, we see Jesus already healing people and casting out evil spirits so his reputation precedes him. It would seem the leper knows Jesus is capable of healing him… but he is unsure if he is willing.
How often are we faced with circumstances where we are capable to love better but are not willing? The NIV translation is the only one I could find that had this phrasing, “Jesus was indignant.” Interesting… Jesus was indignant; frustrated, annoyed, even angry about unfair treatment. The others reference his compassion, which indubitably is also an appropriate assumption to Jesus’ reaction, for he was concerned about the man’s suffering. The hope that Jesus gives this man through a new “clean” life is powerful. Jesus was not concerned about proper reputation, or even levitical laws when he reached out and touched this social outcast.
Which leads me to this question… How good are you at loving the unlovable? How good of a job am I doing at loving those, seeing those, which society deems “unclean?” How we would define “unclean” now would be vastly different than in Jesus’ day. Who do you avoid?
In response to the school shooting in Florida a friend posted on Facebook talking about the importance of relationships, the importance of face-to-face, meaningful, authentic relationships. The irony is not lost on me that I’m writing about meaningful interactions as I sit, faceless behind a computer, and type a blog post. This is not a conversation about what we should or should not do about gun-control, but a feeble attempt at pursuing the societal outliers, and teaching our children to do the same. When I spoke to our youth about Lent this year, one of the suggestions was to add in making sure no one eats lunch alone. I cannot fix the politics, but I can teach my child kindness, and courage, and loving those who hurt them.
Antje came home one day from pre-school and spoke about how another kid in class was calling a newer student a “cry baby.” It sounded like Antje as well had picked up on it and was agreeing with the older student. We used it as a teachable moment and said, “Jessica* is having a hard time adjusting to being at a new school. Even if someone is crying a lot, calling them a name isn’t kind. Maybe you can find a way to help her feel comfortable and play?” Just last week, I dropped Antje off, and sure enough the little girl was crying/whining for a prolonged period of time. Antje made herself comfortable at the breakfast table while I talked with her teacher. In that moment, without prompting from anyone else, I watched my 3 year old reach across the little table, cock her head, and smile in a way that I recognize because I’ve done it too… The look that says, “Will you be my friend? I want to help.”
Who has hurt you? Who have you deemed unlovable? Who do you avoid because they make you uncomfortable? Who are the outliers in our lives? Who can we reach out to and say, “I am willing.” I am willing to be a part of your life. I am willing to be hurt in order to love you better. I am willing to disregard reputation and legalism for the sake of a powerful grace. I am willing to keep pursuing because you are worth it.
Perhaps you consider yourself unlovable. I guarantee there is at least one person who thinks you’re to die for. And he is willing. Are you?